Category Archives: Non-profits

On flooding in Benin, and how to help

This year has been a rough one for Benin, and it’s not about to get any easier. ICC, the LEPI, and now catastrophic flooding are combining to make this fall one of the hardest since I’ve been here. The whole country has been affected, and to say that one region has it worse than another is to fundamentally misunderstand how Benin’s economy and social fabric work. Two thirds of the communes in Benin have flooded zones.

The rains stopped in the North several weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean that the flooding from the Niger river and other northern waterways has stopped. Karimama, Malanville, and any towns around major bodies of water have been affected.

The Ouemé-Plateau is now really just the Ouemé river. The river, Lac Nokoué, and other bodies of water have flooded the plain.

The Zou has also been heavily flooded.

The Mono-Kouffo, with the Mono river and its thousands of lakes and rivers is equally flooded.

And then there’s Cotonou. My neighborhood is OK. We’re on a hill that gently slopes down towards a swamp. Those who live on the border of or in the swamp have been affected, but to be honest, they’re affected every year. Other parts of the city have not been so lucky. Lac Nokoué and the lagune have risen by several inches, flooding whole neighborhoods.

There are parts of Cotonou that can only be reached by pirogue (canoe), including major roads. You know the back route between the Stadium and the old Peace Corps office? Where they used to make foosball tables, on the left there, over the small bridge? That’s been flooded out for weeks, as has the surrounding neighborhood. There’s a guard-vélo to keep an eye on your bike or moto while you take a pirogue to wherever you need to go and come back. Akpakpa is equally flooded.

There are hundreds of dead, thousands missing, and hundreds of thousands displaced. People don’t have lodging, jobs, food, clean water, or mosquito nets. All of Benin’s most fertile plains have been flooded. Nigeria, a crucial food supplier, is also flooded. Pineapples? Beans? Rice? Wheat? Corn? Tomatoes? Prices are already climbing, and this season’s harvest is going to be a disaster.

How can we help?

So people are homeless, kids aren’t going to school, and disease is rampant. What can we do from our armchairs? I checked with the USAID director and several other international donors to find out what they’re doing. The relief effort is being lead by Caritas, who works in partnership with the Beninese government to get supplies and support to areas affected by the flooding. The American mission is funneling funds through Catholic Relief Services (CRS), who in turn work with Caritas. Caritas has already begun distributing mosquito nets, food, and much needed medication. They have also helped to build temporary housing for thousands of people who have lost their homes.

Because we’re all smart development workers and activists, we know that sending in-kind goods is a terrible way to help populations in need. Donors on the ground have far better supply chains and know where they can source supplies locally. Donating to CRS will guarantee that the funds reach Caritas Benin.

Donate today.

Starting Pink BENIN, a Beninese charity (subtitled, “Why Theresa doesn’t have spare time anymore, not like she ever did”)

logos-ong-02-copie1I’ve mentioned Pink BENIN and the work we do briefly here, in emails, and on Twitter, but I haven’t really gone into a lot of detail about what’s become a huge part of my life.

How Pink BENIN got started

About six months ago, a Beninese friend of ours came back from a trip to France and told us she’d gone to remove several lumps from her breasts, and to undergo treatment for breast cancer. This woman is a woman of means and education. She studied in both France and the United States, and is persuing a successful second career as a banker. Her first, as a journalist, was equally successful. All this to say that she is rather atypical of Beninese women in that she has access to wealth and knowledge.

After finding a lump, she approached her family doctor, who told her that, while she could have the lump removed in country, he didn’t really know where to send her for further treatment. X-Ray therapy? Chemo therapy? Can that even be done in West Africa? That was all beyond him. She combed the network of Beninese doctors until she was given recommendations for a doctor in Paris. The process was humiliating, time consuming, and frustrating. Upon her return, she annonced her intention to form Pink BENIN, a non-profit dedicated to helping women survive breast cancer.

We don’t want to cure breast cancer, just stop women from dying from it so bloody often

We want to inform women and doctors that breast cancer doesn’t have to be fatal. We want to teach women how to self examen. We want to dispurse social taboos about maladies that touch women and our sexuality. We want doctors and midwives to know what breast cancer is and where to send women when they find lumps. We want to lower the cost of surgery, and bring x-ray therapy to Benin. We want mammographs in major population centers outside of Cotonou, and we want women to use them anually. We want women to form support networks that encourage self testing and early screening. Most of all, we want to lower the cost of treatment so that women don’t have to die from beast cancer.

Sounds like a lot? Well, we’re ambitious, but we’re also working with smart doctors and health professionals to design programs and projects that do as much as we can with as little funding as possible. We have several models, and while none of them will completely cover our costs, we think we’ll be able to get buy without major gov’t funding for a little while.

What do I think of all this?

Personally, as an American who started out as a Peace Corps Volunteer and ended up emmigrating, it’s a very rewarding experience to work a group of dedicated men and women who aren’t counting on int’l aid to come in and save the day. I see it as the same “volunteering” I did back home; however, this time I sit on the board of directors.

We don’t have any staff (yet), so everyone pitches in where we’re needed. It’s very hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m learning a lot. I wish I knew more about running a charity, running a non-profit, the public health sector, community organizing, and herding cats. While this sort of thing hasn’t yet been done in Benin, it *has* been done throughout the developed world. There are even models as close as the Ivory Coast!

We’re doing our best to learn as much as we can as fast as we can. It’s amazing the work we’ve already done (I’ll write some follow-up posts on that, I think). We’re all terribly worried about doing more harm than good, but we’re also worried about being paralyzed by worry.

If you’re interested in what we do, check out our website at pinkbenin.org.